Ecological Blindness occurs when we are conditioned to mis-perceive our natural spaces. Peter Cairns proposes rewilding, and rewilding adventures, as part of the cure.
It wasn’t so long ago that wild forests teeming with life stretched across much of Scotland. Rivers brimmed with insects, birds and fish, and rich wetlands were shaped by beavers and echoed to the evocative bugling of cranes.
It shocks people to learn that Scotland, despite all its beauty and drama, has become one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. We’ve lost all our large carnivores, most of our large herbivores and many species that were once prolific now teeter on the edge.
And today, we’re in the grip of an illness. It’s a condition that has led to our bare glens and mountains not only being accepted as normal, but cherished and celebrated by most people. It’s a condition called Ecological Blindness. It means that we don’t see the degraded landscapes and the animals we’ve lost because we’re not conditioned to look. Most people don't want to look and risk undermining what they see as wild nature. Yet those areas in Scotland where abundance and diversity of life come anywhere close to what they once were – what they could be again - are few, fragmented and isolated.
'And today, we’re in the grip of an illness. It’s a condition that has led to our bare glens and mountains not only being accepted as normal, but cherished and celebrated by most people. It’s a condition called Ecological Blindness.'
The uncomfortable truth is that we’ve spent the last 50 years desperately trying to hold onto just fragments and threads of nature. This piecemeal approach has failed to arrest and reverse the ecological decline that now threatens the living systems we all depend upon.
It’s time for rewilding.
Rewilding is an opportunity to repair and restore Scotland’s degraded ecosystems; a chance to stitch back together an intricate tapestry of life.
There are many versions of rewilding. In some areas of Scotland, whole landscapes are being transformed by giving nature more freedom to allow forests, wetlands and peatlands to regenerate. Wild animals are being reintroduced into landscapes shaped and governed by natural processes. Elsewhere in towns and cities, communities are working together to create more space for bats, bees and butterflies in parks, gardens and schoolyards. The vision that unites rewilding at these different scales is one of restoration and recovery.
SCOTLAND: The Big Picture is at the forefront of rewilding in Scotland, supporting and enabling a transformational recovery of Scotland’s nature to benefit wildlife, climate and people. The charity works with a diverse range of people to make rewilding happen, at many different levels.
So, what has all this got to do with outdoor adventure? At SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, we’ve long recognised that rewilding is less of a physical process – that’s often the easy bit – and more of a philosophical shift in people’s values and perceptions. It’s about catalysing a change in the way we relate to nature – understanding what could be, rather than settling for what is. To achieve this, it’s much more effective to show people rewilding in action.
The charity offers a programme of inspiring rewilding retreats in the Cairngorms National Park for small groups wishing to immerse themselves in wild landscapes while seeking out enriching encounters with iconic wildlife. Along the way, guests learn about pioneering projects that are fighting back for nature and meet the people involved.
We are, of course, committed to delivering fun, fulfilling and, in some cases, life-changing experiences. But beyond that, these retreats contribute to a bigger picture. Every pound a guest spends with us allows us to employ local staff and purchase our supplies and services from local businesses. In this way, we are able to demonstrate that wild nature provides not only ecological benefits but has a tangible economic value that helps to sustain vibrant communities. It is one way of answering a familiar question: How does rewilding pay?
The concept of ‘journeys with purpose’ is nothing new, yet the philosophy of linking a rich and rewarding travel experience to a financial contribution to enhance the ecological integrity of the landscape you’ve come to enjoy remains the exception and not the rule. For me, this is a missed opportunity.
We are all inspired by snow-capped mountains, cascading rivers and lush, tranquil forests, but these are precious resources that are under threat at a global scale. I believe that travel should be regarded as a privilege and not a right, and that it should come with a responsibility to invest in the landscapes we visit.
To roll out rewilding at the scale necessary to address the dual crises of climate breakdown and global nature loss, we all need to think and act differently. It’s not enough to protect fragments and threads of nature; we need to restore complex, vibrant living systems and our ability to do that rests with all of us and our individual life choices.
'I believe that travel should be regarded as a privilege and not a right, and that it should come with a responsibility to invest in the landscapes we visit.'